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“An Eternal Pitch,” Braxton D. Shelley | CSMC Series

November 19, 2021 @ 4:15 pm

Carolina Symposia in Music and Culture, 2021-2022 Series

An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G.E. Patterson’s Broadcast Religion

This talk attends to the musical afterlife of the late Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson, a Pentecostal minister who, at the time of his death, served as presiding bishop of the largest African American Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). In it, I theorize the nexus of faith, media, and sound that lifted Bishop Patterson to the heights of ecclesial power during his lifetime, while laying the groundwork for a pervasive posthumous presence: broadcast religion. Placing Patterson’s life-long preoccupation with various modes of technical mediation in conversation with his extremely musical approach to preaching, I will show that Bishop Patterson’s technophilic Pentecostalism takes an enchanted view of devices like microphones, radios, televisions, and cameras, understanding each as a channel through which spiritual power can flow. As Patterson’s voice and broadcasting infrastructure produce intimacy with countless scriptural scenes, they cultivate an enduring immediacy that I refer to as afterliveness. Transcending any single homiletic event, afterliveness depends on sermonic sound reproduction, effected by Patterson through both the practice of recording and through ecstatic acts of musical repetition, a set of recurring musical procedures that endow the bishop’s ministry with an eternal pitch.


Braxton D. Shelley, a musicologist who specializes in African American popular music, is a tenured associate professor of music, of sacred music, and of divinity in the Department of Music, the Institute of Sacred Music, and Yale’s Divinity School. His research and critical interests, while especially focused on African American gospel performance, extend into media studies, sound studies, phenomenology, homiletics, and theology.

After earning a BA in Music and History from Duke University, Shelley received his Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago. While at the University of Chicago, he also earned a Master of Divinity from the university’s Divinity School. His first book, Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination (OUP, 2021) develops an analytical paradigm for gospel music that braids together resources from cognitive theory, ritual theory, and homiletics with studies of repetition, form, rhythm and meter. His second book, An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G. E. Patterson and the Afterlives of Ecstasy, is under contract with the University of California Press.

Prof. Shelley’s work has been awarded the Alfred Einstein Prize and the Paul A. Pisk Prize from the American Musicological Society, the Jaap Kunst Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, the Adam Krims Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group, the 2016 Graduate Student Prize from the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music, and the 2018 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award from the University of Chicago Division of the Humanities, he has presented his research at Amherst College, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Duke University, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, SUNY-Stony Brook, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Yale University, as well as at the annual meetings of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music, Music Theory Midwest, the Society for Music Theory, and the American Musicological Society. Prof. Shelley’s scholarship is enriched by work as both an active performer and ordained minister. His itinerant preaching and music ministry takes material form in the 2018 CD, Sermons in Song, recorded with his recording choir TESTIMONY, a compilation of compositions which have been performed in venues including the Gospel Music Workshop of American and the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference.



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This lecture is part of the 2021-2022 Carolina Symposia in Music and Culture lecture series.


November 19, 2021
4:15 pm
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Person Hall
181 E Cameron Ave
Chapel Hill, NC 27514 United States

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